On Tuesday night, Melania Trump walked into her newly renovated White House Rose Garden for night two of the Republican National Convention (RNC). Standing high in her heels, wearing an olive green skirt suit reminiscent of a general’s jacket, her look was a clear nod to the country’s military families. But perhaps it was also a symbol: had she come to protect and defend the ideals of Trumpism? The suit, created by British designer Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen , is from McQueen’s Resort 2020 Collection. In its November coverage of the runway show, Vogue called pieces in the collection “botanically weaponised ready-to-wear … the perfect armour for any shrinking violet set on blossoming into a tall poppy totally immune to pruning”. Fitting, it seems, for Melania’s purposes at the RNC last night. On an aesthetic level, her green outfit stood in stark contrast against her recently renovated Rose Garden, with its “minimalist” and overwhelmingly white new design. But it fit perfectly against the background of America: the reds, whites and blues of the country’s flag, and the olive green of its military history. As she stood in front of her new garden last night, Melania made the case for the nation’s democracy: “Our diverse and storied history is what makes our country strong,” she said. “And yet, we still have so much to learn from one another.” Yes, you can afford that luxe bag – just buy now, pay later But there’s a strange tension in the figure of Melania Trump, first lady for the most nativist and divisive president in American history. In a long line of first ladies virtually always born in the US, she is only the second wife of a president to have been born outside the country after London-born Louisa Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams. Melania is also the first whose native tongue isn’t English, as well as the first naturalised US citizen. By virtue of those facts, Melania technically ranks among the most diverse first ladies ever, and aspects of her life story carry lessons that resonate throughout American history: about the importance of opportunity, the dangers of nationalism and what wearing a nicely tailored outfit will help you get away with. Ahead of her speech, Peter Navarro, a trade adviser for the White House, called Melania the “Jackie Kennedy of her time”, saying she has the “beauty, the elegance, the soft-spokenness” of John F. Kennedy’s first lady. But Melania’s comparisons to Jackie Kennedy pretty much end at the hem. Unlike Melania, Kennedy was known for standing solidly behind something – she was a patron of the arts, known not just for her renovations of the White House but also, during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, for contributing support to both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Melania, on the other hand, oscillates – mostly silently – between being annoyed at, and vaguely supportive of, her husband. She regularly smacks Trump’s hand away from her in public and has launched an anti-cyberbullying campaign called “Be Best”, even though her husband has made cyberbullying into a fact of public life. But when the president was criticised for interning children at the border, she wore a jacket that read “I really don’t care, do U?” while visiting those same kids. And after her husband was heard on tape making crude remarks about the female anatomy, she wore a pink blouse with a bow named after that same body part. Melania has long used fashion as both a cloak of invisibility and her weapon of choice. Her expressions are often as carefully composed and indecipherable as her perfectly tailored gowns, polished hair and manicured hands, wrapped along the handles of an endless variety of Hermès Birkin bags . By and large, Melania’s poised style hasn’t been matched by her prose, except when she spoke movingly at the RNC four years ago – although that speech turned out to be strikingly similar to one given by yet another former first lady, Michelle Obama. From a style lens, the public perception of the current first lady and her predecessor couldn’t be more different. Michelle was often criticised, not celebrated, for wearing expensive clothes – whereas Melania often wins praise for her fashion choices. Michelle was noted for her love of more affordable brands, such as J. Crew, and was most likely to don a pair of Converse sneakers on a day’s outing. Of course, affordable isn’t Melania’s shtick – it’s Manolo Blahnik or bust. And the people seem to have no problem with that. But perhaps what Michelle lacked in an endless supply of Dolce & Gabbana gowns , she made up for in charismatic social efforts that have helped define her public persona – and current career as a professional speaker – today. The public address, a rarity for Melania, stuck out because of how tonally different it was from other RNC speeches these past two nights, as CNN’s Jake Tapper noted during the live broadcast. Unlike most in the line-up, she didn’t attack liberals, and she was one of the few RNC speakers to acknowledge the lives lost during the coronavirus pandemic. She also addressed the country’s ongoing opioid epidemic and spoke about her plans as the first lady for the next four years. She even touched on her status as an immigrant and her birth country. To be fair, politics aside, it’s true that women are allowed to just be attractive and well-dressed; Melania doesn’t owe us her time or her energy. But if she has been trying to craft a real legacy while in the shadow of her husband, her attempts have only made her a beautiful shadow, too – dolled up, made-up, standing on pillars in sinking sand. If Melania spoke more about her own experience as an American immigrant, she could, as Michelle Obama has for the Democrats, emerge as a powerful female voice in her party, alongside the few diverse female leaders the party already has: Indian-American Nikki Haley and Kimberly Guilfoyle , who cited herself as “a first-generation American”, the daughter of Irish and Puerto Rican immigrants (much to the dismay of those who pointed out that Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917). But instead, Melania is sticking to her long-established brand: good-but-not-great speeches that touch on the surface level of real, urgent issues – but ultimately, not saying much. In the end, perhaps Melania is simply, once again, letting her clothes do the talking: in her military-style jacket, she’s like a sentry, safeguarding Trumpism but not meaningfully contributing to it at all. For better or worse.